Monday, March 24, 2008

Not-So-Bold Prediction: Arsenal Will Finish Trophyless

I think we can all agree that there is no way Arsenal is going to win the Premiership this year, which is something I said before Christmas, even when Arsenal were playing incredibly well and sat on top of the table. Going winless in five straight league games, particularly at this point in the season, like Arsenal has done can effectively end any team’s title hopes with the top-heavy structure of the Premiership.

The six point gap between the Gunners and defending champions Manchester United isn’t a huge problem in itself, but the fact that Chelsea is now sandwiched between the two teams complicates things and so does the fact that Arsenal has to visit Old Trafford on April 13, where United has lost only once all season. If Arsenal was to win that game, then we could talk, but I just don’t see it happening. Even if they did win, they’d still need to make up another three points on United, and with opponents like Middlesbrough, Blackburn, West Ham, and Wigan still remaining for the Red Devils, that’s not likely. United also has a far superior goal differential than Arsenal, and although it’s the silliest, most ridiculous tiebreaker I’ve ever heard of, it still is the tiebreaker.

Ok, so as I said, it’s highly unlikely that Arsenal will win the Premiership. As the Gunners have crashed out of both the FA Cup and Carling Cup, that leaves the Champions League as their last chance at silverware this season.

Their opponent in the quarterfinal round is Liverpool, who, despite all of their flaws in the Premiership, are EXTREMELY difficult to beat in the Champions League and will give Arsenal fits. In fact, I believe Liverpool will knock Arsenal out but to be fair, I’ve been wrong on numerous occasions before.

Arsene Wenger has never won a Champions League or a UEFA Cup as a manager, although he has a runner-up finish in both competitions. Rafa Benitez is well-known as a master tactician in Europe and has both a Champions League title and a UEFA Cup title to his name, the latter of which came at Valencia.

As a team, Liverpool has more Champions League experience (by far) than Arsenal with Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Jose Reina, Xabi Alonso, Steve Finnan, and others on the roster. Unlike AC Milan, another team with plenty of experience in Europe’s biggest club competition, Liverpool isn’t full of players in their 30’s who just can’t match Arsenal’s pace and quickness.

Oh, and don’t for a second underestimate the advantage of Anfield on a European night. The Scousers will be rocking and singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” until the cows come home, and I’m not sure if Arsenal will be able to overcome the emotion of the crowd when the two teams meet.

No, I just don’t think Arsenal will progress past Liverpool. If they do, well done, jolly good and all that, but then they’d have to deal with Chelsea, and we saw what happened when those two teams met on Sunday. Avram Grant looks as if he’s starting to understand this whole managerial thing and he’s picking the best lineup to give his team a chance to win, something he hasn’t always done.

Arsenal will finish the year trophyless. Ordinarily, that would be OK; you wouldn’t even need a full hand to count how many teams actually win something in Europe’s top three domestic leagues, the Champions League, and the UEFA Cup and not winning doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, mean you had a bad season. However, with the way Arsenal started the year, you would have to say it would be a disappointing season if Arsenal were to not win any silverware.

No, the Emirates Cup doesn’t count, nice try.

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